By Michael E. Williams
First there was “Soul in the City”, a radio show in Montreal, that ran every Saturday from 6-midnight on CKGM from about 1981-1984. I designed it to showcase all types of musical talent. There was no music or guest off limits. Our guest list included: Stray Cats, Tina Turner, Fat Boys, Run DMC, Gladys Knight, and all the other artist of the day, local and international. I booked them, called them, engineered, hosted and edited the interviews. It became a hit live radio show with ratings that were historic considering that people pretty much stopped listening to AM Radio once the great Ralph Lockwood era ended (1972-1981). Geoff Sterling had actually declared at a staff meeting that he could broadcast to more people by standing on top of the station, using a bullhorn. He was right, until “Soul in the City” (originally called “Club 980”).
Recently I thought of reviving the show ‘til I talked to a local (Toronto) Program Director that referred to the music as geriatric…? Today, however, most radio stations (greatest hits formats) are in the hands of people half the age of the music they are being told to play on air. Part of the deal for me is that you have to trust me to select the music I play!
The most fun of it all for me was being the only person who, in a major market, worked at two stations, two different formats (one created by me) on CKGM and Chom Fm was the other station. Much to the chagrin of our Program Director, I made “Maggot Brain” by the Fukadelics a hit after one play. The phones lit up like a Christmas tree and for the next few weeks it was the number one requested song, trumping “Stairway to Heaven”, which had been number one since the station’s inception. Wouldn’t that say automatically play “Maggot Brain” in some sort of rotation? People want this and dig it. He never read it that way and asked that I never play it again on his “$##@! Station”. So, I designed a show at 4 am called “The Pause Café” (with Benoit Dufrense, my partner in musical crimes) where I could play “Maggot Brain” and the music that reminded me, and the audience, of Classic Chom Fm before it became Montreal’s Only Rock.
Radio was in my blood, since my sister won a contest in Cleveland on WABQ and was DJ for a week. My role models were Ken Hawkins, the first late night Black man on TV in Cleveland with music and commentary, Alan Douglas who was the greatest radio talk show ever before Phil Donahue, and host Dorothy Fulldhein, an 86 year old white woman with the heart of lion and the courage of three, was also my hero. Every politician or presidential hopeful stopped by to see her including Martin Luther King Jr., The Kennedy’s (all of them), Nixon, Malcolm X and all the world leaders of the day.
The men that taught me the most were Chris Columbi (a legendary jazz jock out of Cleveland), and Billy Bass, the Black man that made WMMS what it was. The guy I loved the most, as the pinnacle of talent on the air at WNCR, was Mr. Enos Lynn Doyle, my mentor. He was the greatest and the first Black jock I knew that was working at a rock station.
I have been working in radio since the age of 13. My first on air professional gig was at the age of 15. They put me on because the jock did not show. My daily after school job was at Classical radio station, WCLV, (The Cleveland Orchestra Station) in production and syndication for the Cleveland Orchestra and all the area music schools from Oberlin to Kent State. My spare time was divided between WNCR, WRUW (Case Western Reserve campus radio station), WCLV and my high school station.
In 1975 I came to Loyola College in Montreal where I worked at Radio Loyola then later at Chom Fm till I left in 1984 for Much Music and Chum Fm. Chom Fm was magic to me; it was the first station where I heard Rufus, Chaka Khan, I’m Every Woman, Bob Marley and the Wailers “Exodus”, and everything local of interest in French and English, e.g. Alan Gerber, Shaky Al, Gino Vanelli, Ville le Marde Blues Band and Boule Noire. The on air cultural variety and freedom were brilliant. I loved working at Chom-Fm, when Geoff Stirling owned it, as it was part of music and social Montreal history.
When I was in Montreal, life was great and I experienced musical freedom similar to Cleveland! It helped that my university roommate, Mike Delaney, would take me along to Studio Six (above Rockheads Paradise) where I witnessed magic in the making with Quentin Meek behind the console. The French community was kind and welcoming to me. It was the home of the heart!
Back in the day it was about the music not race, the tribes were mixed and we were Hippies !
Links: to my influences, mentors and my life!
Fukadelics “Maggot Brain”
Billy Bass Air Check on WNCR the best
WNCR air check: 1972 best radio ever!
Rush in Cleveland, we were the original fans